A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 28, 2011
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A Single Man is a unique, eloquent novel. One of a kind, to be cliché. It was written by Christopher Isherwood, a pioneer in realistic homosexual writings, so it's no wonder. Depicted is a day in the life of George Falconer, a middle aged college professor who has recently lost his partner to a severe car accident. This partner, however, was of the same gender—and their relationship was shielded from the public eye. He struggles with the heartbreak that has followed the incident, societies ignorance towards 'minorities' like him, and his own bleak future as an aging man. This is an interesting plot that is perfectly portrayed by each word written.

The suburbs of Los Angeles, California is described well throughout and there is no doubt that the novel takes place in the early 1960s. Multiple characters describe the warmth of the landscape; the roaring ocean is always just around the corner. There are bars where one can linger on the shore, the grass is healthiest in the shade, plus, it is full of all the 'new-age' rectangular buildings. To me, this definitely has a California-esque feel. Despite the cozy sense that emanates from the area, the Cuban Missile Crisis is in full swing and the dialogue is interpreted by constant talks of bomb shelters and Cuba itself. These things are not bluntly but subtly written so you can realize a certain fear that lingers in the minds of masses (as brought up later on). Another thing is how artfully the fashion sense and behaviors of the time are described. Square glasses, the peaked lapel that is designed on George's suit, the raggedy jeans worn by the younger generations, the prevalent smoking in class, and on and on are all things that scream 1960s. Isherwood obviously takes the time to fully describe to the reader where his book is, the exact city, and what time period it is in (easy for him, since he wrote this during the 60s).

Over the course of the novel, we see George's perspective on the world changing. Dreary at first, he grows to realize how much is left for him in the world. There is so much here for him to explore, even when it all seemed ridden with society's money-thirsty touch and biased opinions. “...eating his poached eggs humbly and dully, a prisoner for life.” At the beginning, life is his prison. He barely can wake without this constant idea that the day will pass so quickly...and tomorrow will arise with just as much momentum. George goes to teach only to rant on about how minorities are mistreated by majorities due to fear they will hurt them, meets up with colleagues only to explain how Americans are modernizing to no avail, and explains to his dear friend Charlotte, how he feels love will never be his once more—Jim cannot be forgotten-a pessimistic outlook, but with utter realism. No man that has suffered the oppression George has could do better, particularly with his profound loss. So why write without the force of his displeasure? Force it upon the reader, let them know that whatever his mind latches onto, hate will ensue. “What is George's hate, then? A stimulant, nothing more; though very bad for him, no doubt.” Isherwood does well to show this transition using other characters to allow George to indeed explore his misanthropic tendencies, and then conquer them one by one. Charlotte offers him comfort, only to know that he will never be hers—and that is something that she needs to come to terms with. His friends allow him to express certain opinions on this unstable world. His students, especially Kenny Potter, let him see that, yes, occasionally their minds also go ticking just like his. This is a subtext to what is written, yet is bait to be found. The book is written in such a way to keep the reader wondering...what does it come down to. to cause such a man?

The writing style is key to the greatness of this novel. The author writes in such detail; metaphors scatter the plot but link together smoothly. Ideas are bluntly portrayed by blunt characters, or inferred by a more serious one. George questions his resolve, “...the brain inside its skull...it can become aware, in this state, of certain decisions apparently not yet made. Decisions that are like codicils which have been secretly signed and witnessed and put away in a most private place to await the hour of their execution.” i.e. George's thoughts after his meeting with Kenny. This is, in my interpretation, his realization that this mourning of his, and pessimistic ideas, are holding him back from being able to make the 'decisions' that will let him go on with his life. These sentences control the novel, help the plot flow from moment to moment. Leaving such an intense imprint on the mental processes, that I even had to keep reading to know what the characters, like George, were going to do...to think...or say. This novel's writing style is enthralling.





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